I had the crazy idea of knitting myself a new sweater in the run-up to last autumn’s busy show season (Perth Festival of Yarn, Yarndale and Loch Ness Knit Fest all came in quick succession). Unsurprisingly I didn’t manage to finish my Newleaf Sweater quite in time but it was actually a pretty quick knit and I thoroughly enjoyed the odd moment of knitting between lots of dyeing.

Newleaf Sweater in Coulmore 4ply, by Jenn Steingass
Coulmore 4ply – Organic Cheviot First Clip from a single farm on the Black Isle

Newleaf Sweater is a design by Jennifer Steingass. Jenn has published a lot of patterns recently but this is the first I have knit – I really enjoyed it and found it a well written pattern. Initially I had some difficulty with the colour-work as my floats were a bit tight. I commented on instagram and had a lot of very helpful comments. I tried knitting the colour-work inside out as a first step and, since that worked well for me, I didn’t try any of the other suggestions…….but it is good to know there are other options if I have problems in the future.

I knit my sweater in Coulmore 4ply, I knew it would be one I’d wear a lot and the hard wearing, and light, properties of Coulmore 4ply would be perfect. The main colour is the undyed grey from my latest batch and the contrast is a dark grey-blue (naturally dyed of course). I think it would also work well with a dyed shade as the main colour and undyed for the colour-work contrast.

I debated whether to go for the long sleeve or short sleeve version. Eventually I decided on short sleeves, which was definitely the right option for the way I’m wearing it – over long sleeve tops, all day most days! It is great for working in, I can dye without having sleeves in the way. I’m keen to knit more sweaters with short sleeves (though I’m not sure it would work so well in heavier weight yarns).

I knit the second size and used 3 skeins of the main colour and 1 of the contrast.

Pondering Coulmore 4ply colour options for future Newleaf Sweaters!

Annie Rowden’s Winter Hoodie is one of my favourite children’s knits. My mum has knit 5 or 6 of these over the years, all sized a little big so that they can be worn for several years. She recently knit one for her youngest grandchild (and my littlest nephew) in BIY Shetland DK. And I’m very happy to report that he seems to be enjoying wearing it – though catching him still enough to photgraph is quite a challenge!

Can’t beat a toddler tummy encased in wool!

The hoodie is knit with Natural Fawn as the main colour and Natural White as the contrast.

I’m so pleased that Shetland DK is soft enough to be used as yarn for baby and child knits and that it works so well for colourwork. I’d really quite like one of these for myself.

Off he goes!

Another of my mum’s very kind sample knits for me. And another that I wear regularly and completely fail to keep as a pristine sample! The pattern is the Lanes Cardigan by Joji Locatelli, originally published in Laine Magazine Issue 1, but now also available as a separate pattern.

The cardigan is knit in Coulmore DK and works perfectly for this simple cardigan with beautiful details. To quote from Laine: ‘ If we had to choose just one cardigan to wear for the rest of our lives, it would be this one. Fake shoulder seams make a lovely small detail and the collar can be worn folded or unfolded. Knitting this cardigan is like going on an exciting adventure with a friend ending with a trip to a local button shop – or you do it like Joji and finish your knitwear with buttons that used to be your grandpa‘s.

Lanes Cardigan in Coulmore DK, by Joji Locatelli

Unfortunately my buttons aren’t ones that used to be my grandad’s (isn’t that special?) but are lovely wooden ones that mum bought in South Africa – I always think that mum is very good at picking the right buttons to finish off a project.

The sample uses Coulmore dyed with tea leaves, and I love the neutral colour for this simple design. It is knit in size medum and used five 100g skeins. I have been wearing mine for almost 2 years now (a bit of a blogging delay!) and even with very regular use it shows little signs of wear, and almost no pilling. I’d thoroughly recommend the pattern and yarn combination. Coulmore DK works very well for knits that you want to wear regularly. It isn’t the most sophisticated yarn but it is hard wearing and (for me) comfortable next to the skin…………plus the wool comes from one farm here on the Black Isle which supports three generations of the same family, and that in itself is very special. You can read more about Coulmore here.

Once again my lovely mum has been helping me out with some sample knitting – and once again, I’m wearing the so-called sample all the time! St Catherines is a superb design by Kate Davies, who says that it is a ‘shrug-style garter stitch cardigan, with dolman sleeves and short-row shaping‘. Mum knit my version in BIY Bluefaced Leicester 4ply, I love it in this soft, slightly squishy and drapey yarn and find it very wearable – comfortable and flattering. It would also work very well in Bluefaced Leicester Suri Blend 4ply, the addition of the Suri Alpaca in this blend would add even more drape and work very effectively with the deisgn.

St Catherines Cardigan in BFL 4ply

The cardigan used 3 skeins of BFL 4ply to knit the 2nd size (with longer sleeves) and is knit in Seaweed. Seaweed is naturally dyed (as always) with locally collected bramble leaves and indigo. I loves the colour tones I achieve when dyeing with bramble leaves (Rockpool is also dyed with bramble leaves, with more indigo for a deeper shade, and has a similar tonal effect). If you look in the Ravelry gallery here you’ll see you can also knit St Catherines as a striped cardigan, I love it this way too.

St Catherines by Kate Davies

I’ve had the Puzzlewood Mittens pattern on my to-make list since it was first published a couple of years ago. The original design, by Ruth Werwai, was published in the lovely book WOODS, by the Making Stories team. I love that they feature local sustainable yarns – and, in fact, Black Isle Yarns are the original yarns used in the Puzzlewood Mittens design.

Puzzlewood Mittens

I no longer produce one of the original yarns so I decided to knit my pair with two skeins of Gotland DK (one of the two original yarns). I have been testing the colour-fastness of yarn dyed with Safflower and used a sunshiny yellow Safflower skein combined with a soft beige dyed with oak bark. The pattern is a straightforward and satisfying knit. I knit size 2 although I would have been better with size 1. Since taking the photos I have machine washed the mitts to slightly shrink and felt them! With two 100g skeins you could knit two pairs of these mittens, reversing the colour dominance for the second pair.

I’d definitely recommend this pattern as a quick and simple knit.

Puzzlewood Mittens in BIY Gotland DK, Size 2

I thought that I’d talk a bit about how I work and the steps involved in BIY from field to skein – so that if you ever pick up a skein you know just what has gone into it.

Fearniewell Croft

The first stage is to make contact and build a relationship with a farm or smallholding that has a sheep breed I am interested in, and whose land managament and animal welfare meets a high standard.  I’m now working with around 12 local farms and have found them in a variety of ways.  My very first contact (in late 2015 in advance of summer 2016’s clip) was Fearniewell Croft, a local smallholding which operates mostly as an organic veg grower – and since I buy my delicious veg box from Dan and Rachel it made sense to contact them and ask if they would be interested in me buying fleeces from their small Gotland(ish) flock.  The next fleeces came from Jim and Linda’s Hedgefield Zwartbles – Jim had done some work with my husband, and Jim and I then realised we had been forestry colleagues in Aberdeenshire in the 1990s.  Since then contacts have been made through active searching (such as finding Meadows Flock for my first Shetland fleeces) and word of mouth, with farmers contacting me to see if I’d be interested in buying their wool.  Perhaps my favourite find is Coulmore – my friend Emily bumped into this special organic cheviot flock when she was out on a bike ride!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be contacting each of the farms to get a feel for when they’re likely to be clipping and I’ll then maintain contact until shearing actually happens – in an ideal world I’d visit on shearing day but this often turns out to be quite tricky.  Clipping dates are often decided at the last moment, worked around weather and other farm and work duties, and as I have to work around my family and access to our car it often isn’t possible to visit until afterwards.

When I visit each farm I’ll have in mind the numbers and colours (if theyr’e Shetland) of fleeces I’m aiming to select.  But if there’s lots of great quality that number tends to slip upwards, and likewise I won’t buy fleeces which aren’t good enough quality.  I tend to do a bit of skirting at that stage – I can’t help pulling off daggy and coarse bits as I’m handling a fleece (ingrained, I think, from rolling fleeces as a child!) – but each fleece will be properly skirted back at home.  Ideally I’ll do it the same day but often I don’t manage and then I’ll have a mammoth sorting session and clean-up several lots at once.  Once they’re skirted I’ll weigh the fleeces so that I have a running total of each breed and colour.  I really ought to build myself a sorting table, at the moment I crawl around on the ground in our back garden, or occasionally at the front – which I suspect must bemuse (and amuse) some of my neighbours!  Discarded fleece goes around my soft fruit as a mulch and fertiliser, and any excess goes off to a local orchard for a similar end use.

Fearniewell Croft

Having selected, bought and sorted each batch of fleeces they’ll head off to the mill.  Fleeces that go to The Border Mill will have a pre-booked slot (I have several booked per year) and I’ll take a car-load of fleece when I go to visit family in East Lothian, which is just a short drive from Duns where TBM is based. To date the other mill I have used is The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall so it is more efficient environmentally for fleeces to be sent to them by courier service.  I work closely with the mills to work out a spin plan for each batch – I’ll have my own thoughts but it is always good to make the most of their expertise and advice.

The spun yarn comes back to me on cones and the first step is to skein the yarn – I place the cone on electronic scales while I hand wind onto my skein winder.  I’m much faster now than I was initially but it is still time consuming!  At this stage an undyed skein just needs the appropriate label filling in from my online template, then printing off, cutting to size and attaching round the twisted skein.  I always include the sheep breed, farm(s) the fleece came from, and clipping year – as well as m/100g – on the label.

35g mini skeins (73 in total!) ready for dyeing before Edinburgh Yarn Festival
A special one-off yarn from Coulmore, still on the cone which will be in the next shop update

After winding, a dyed skein goes through several stages.  The first step is to thoroughly scour the skeins to clean them.  I’ll scour several at a time by bringing them up to 70-80 degrees for an hour or so in tap water with a little pH netural dishwashing soap.  If they’re to be dyed with indigo or a dye material which is ‘substantive’ (i.e. a dye that is applied directly without a mordant) they’re now ready to be dyed after being rinsed.  As an example I don’t mordant if I’m dyeing with gallnut.  Often though the next step is to mordant the skeins (with a naturally occuring salt – ‘alum’ or potassium aluminium sulphate dodecahydrate) which helps fix the dye to the fibre and increases light, water and wash fastness.

Bramble leaves, gallnuts and alder cones

I like to collect as much dye material locally as I can and this includes bramble leaves, heather tops, fallen tree lichen, alder cones and beech mast (and this year I want to try hawthorn twigs and leaves amongst others).  Unfortunately though I’d struggle to get a good range of colour without the addition of bought dye material which I buy from respected traceable sources. The exact dye process varies dependent on the dye material but usually involves heat and then soaking for at least several hours.  Often I’ll overdye to create more complex shades or add more than one dye material at a time – and if I’m experimanting I’ll keep adding until I’m happy (or otherwise!) with the shade I have achieved. 

The final step, after several rinses and air drying, is to twist and label each skein………although for a 4 ply yarn I will reskein each of the skeins, once they are dry, before twisting and labelling.  This is my least favourite step as it is time consuming and fiddly, but I find that 4ply can get quite tangled during dyeing and I’d much rather it got to you without any tangles.

A {not quite} rainbow of mini skeins

For yarn that I list online there’s a a final few steps – photographing, editing (to ensure the colour is accurate) and listing each shade and yarn into the shop database.

And there you have it!  I hope that was an interesting insight into what I get up to and what makes each skein of BIY.  If you have any questions please do ask.

I had a custom order before Christmas for a yarn set to knit the Indigo Sea Shawl by Carrie Bostick Hoge – it is a lovely shawl which uses 50g each of three shades of 4ply.  I dyed the set in heathery shades on Bluefaced Leicester Suri Alpaca 4 ply, over the Natural Silver shade (naturally dyed with logwood, lac and iron). While I was dyeing the order I created another 3 x 50g set (165m/50g x 3 =  495m/150m) and several 5 x 50g sets (165m/50g x 5 = 825m/250g) which fully exhausted the dye bath.

The three shade set would make a lovely Indigo Sea Shawl as per the original custom order, and there will be many other options I’m sure.  For the five shade sets I had a quick search on Ravelry and found some really stunning designs that I think would work well (this is just a tiny snippet, have a look here for more ideas) ……..

Designs, clockwise from top left – Winterlight by Meg Gadsbey, Miso by Ambah O’Brien, Indigo Sea Shawl by Carrie Bostick Hoge, Honey Honey Honey by Lisa Hannan, ADVENTurer Scarf & Wrap by Ambah O’Brien, Bark Lines by Joji Locatelli and Colourblind by Jana Huck (all design photos by designer)

Of course, it would also be possible to combine one of these sets with a full 100g skein or two of BFL Suri in Natural Cream or Silver for a beautiful light-weight drapey colourwork or striped cardigan or jumper.

Once again I am delighted to be joining in with Project Peace, Christina Campbell’s (aka The Healthy Knitter) annual worldwide Knit Along to promote peaceful mindful knitting during the hectic holiday season.  Christina already has almost 1000 people joining in so far this year – from all around the world…..ready to knit the beautiful Project Peace cowl and ‘spread seeds of peace’ by knitting together.  One or two skeins will knit either version of the cowl.  I will donate 10% of all BFL Suri Blend, sold in December, to Unicef and I will pop a peaceful little ‘something extra’ into each package too.  In addition, Christina will donate all pattern proceeds to charity.

The best place to find out more about this wonderful initiative is to visit Christina’s website. But, in summary, this is a way to join knitters around the world and to ‘promote peace for self, family, community, the people of our world and this beautiful planet’. Christina posts a blog daily with little ‘seeds’ helping us to think and reflect – last year I found them lovely calm little points in each day, just perfect to quietly absorb for a few moments during this very busy time of year.

 

I will add a special new dye shade ‘Sea Breeze’ , just for Project Peace, in BFL Suri to the shop over the weekend of 1/2 December – hopefully Saturday 1st December in the evening.  It will be a tonal indigo blue, similar to the shade I am knitting my version in……but completely unique just for Project Peace! In the meantime there are lots of lovely dyed and undyed (natural cream and silver) skeins in the shop at the moment.

*As of 29 November, I haven’t yet finished my version of the cowl (which Christina kindly released early for me to begin testing yarn suitability) so I can’t be certain I’ll complete the whole cowl with one skein – it may be a little close, but the pattern is very forgiving and easy to adapt – the final repeat can easily be missed out if yarn looks to be running low.  Or you could choose two skeins to knit the larger version of the cowl.  All the pattern details are available when you buy the pattern and the full knitting instructions are released on 1 December.

 

 

Rockpool – dyed with indigo and bramble leaves

I realise that I haven’t talked all that much about natural dyeing – I think that, as it is something I do on a regular basis (rather than new patterns and yarns which are more of an ‘event’), I don’t tend to share what I have been up to.  I thought I’d share part of an interview that I did for Clare Devine’s blog (thank you Clare!)…………..

Seaweed – dyed with indigo and bramble leaves

”Clare: Your yarns are naturally dyed. Could you tell me a little more about why you decided to use natural dyes and what inspires your colour choices.

Me: It was actually natural dyes which drew me into setting up Black Isle Yarns. I began with natural dyeing for my own use – collecting plant material while out on walks and experimenting with colour for fun. I very quickly began to feel that I wanted to know where the yarn I was dyeing came from and, having grown up on a smallholding and having a lifelong love of farming and land management, I knew there would be a lot of wool locally which was fetching little to no money for the farmer. I sounded out a couple of local flock owners who I already knew and began searching for a mill to use. I was incredibly lucky to start with The Border Mill, they are great to work with and always prepared to try new ideas.

Ginger dyed with annato, quebracho red, rhubarb, cutch and sorghum

I was originally drawn to dyeing with natural materials because of my love of plants and the outdoors – there is something incredibly satisfying in creating colour with material gathered while out walking. Perhaps because of my background, I tend to have a map in my head of the plants in my local area and when they are likely to be coming into leaf or flower. I love spotting something new on a familiar walking route and storing it’s location away for future reference. I think these same walks inspire my colour choices. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a very beautiful part of the world. The Black Isle is a unique part of the Scottish Highlands, a little peninsula surrounded by sea. From home I can walk down to the beach and along the shore to caves and cliffs, or inland through fields and up into the hills and woods that make up the top of the Black Isle. Colours here are often slightly muted with beautiful shades and tones, and I think these are definitely reflected in the colours I dye. Over time, and as I build expertise (natural dyeing is such an artform, I will always be learning), I would like to work towards a set of deeper more saturated shades which would reflect the more bold colours we have when it is cold and clear after a good fall of snow.

Culloden dyed with lac and hibiscus

Curiosity dyed with sorghum and Pearl dyed with gallnut

I’m so very pleased to share with you the Munlochy Socks, designed for Killen Sock (you can read more about Killen Sock, my all-natural sock yarn, here) by the very talented Clare Devine. When I first started planning Killen Sock , over 18 months ago now, I knew that I’d ideally like a pattern designed by Clare. She is a very experienced sock designer with a beautiful, subtle aesthetic which I love – and she champions the use of no-nylon, all-natural sock yarn.  There’s some great information, about knitting with and wearing no-nylon sock yarn, on her website: here and here. I was quite nervous about asking Clare and so delighted when she said yes!

Clare has designed ‘cosy socks which are perfect winter warmers – they are warm and will wear beautifully. The simple cable wave undulates over the garter stitch panels creating a gorgeous texture.’

If you design a pair of Munlochy Socks in Killen I’d love to see the finished socks – and would be very grateful for any feedback on my new yarn.